Sunday, September 11, 2011


I settle into my new room with as much ease as the third day of wearing a new pair of shoes: not worn in enough to be comfortable, but not unfamiliar enough to be uncomfortable. This building, Heights 11, is new to me, but all of these buildings look the same with only slight niche differences.

Heights 11 was my first choice for my round three. It houses scientists who ranked high in their class or have made a name for themselves in the industry. I graduated with top honors two years ago, but the reason I was deemed suitable for this housing now is the latter: I am the prodigy of the respected Dr. Vocx. The work I have done in my three years of graduate studies and two years of professional experience has deemed me one of the industry's finest.

As per my routine every time I move into a new place, the first thing I do is take a two-minute glance of the room. It has the color scheme of white and silver, very clean like a science lab. The room is not big. Upon entering, the bed, a single, is five steps to the left. Next to it is a dresser. The bathroom is straight from the door, ten steps. A window is at the farthest left, 20 steps. To the right, a work table, three steps. Two steps from the table is a wall with a small refrigerator. If all works out, I should be out of here by five months and three weeks. After that, a new building.

The next part of my routine is to arrange my belongings, which never takes long because my belongings fit into a small bag. I have four sets of clothes, all of which are uniforms for work. These I arrange in the dresser. The only other possessions that I need to set in this room are my hygienic items. I go the bathroom. It has been cleaned thoroughly, better than the bathrooms of other buildings I have been in. Then again, this is one of the higher end buildings. In Heights 11, children with high IQ are conceived.

I place my toothbrush in its holder five inches to the left of the sink. My cup two inches beside that to the left. To the right of the sink I place tubes of facial lotion, contraceptive jelly, and vitamins, each three inches apart.

I look at my watch. 3:45 a.m. Work starts in fifteen minutes. One of the good things about living in Heights 11 is many of the science labs are not far from here. Where I work, Laboratory Four, is only a five minute walk from the building. When I am sure everything is arranged I grab my work case and leave the room.

Many are moving around the hallway. In other buildings I have lived in I was among the few awake at this hour. Because we're all in the sciences, I suppose many of us have the same schedule. Almost all of us are suited in the gray one piece suit of our profession.

“You're new,” a six-foot-three man says to me. He has dark brown, clean swept hair and hazel eyes. I saw him approaching from the far end of the hallway.

“I've just moved in,” I say. We eye each other for a moment. He straightens his back, and gives me a look as though to say, “Look at all of me.” He knows he is good looking. I let my eyes scan him up and down and give a grin in response.

I lift my left hand up, bare my wrist and pull out a thin, four-inch long wire, fittingly called one's cord. This cord holds everything about me: my license number, the digital copy of my birth certificate, updated accounts of my biological parents' history. For my purposes now in the hall it contains my DNA type, my genealogy to indicate whether he and I are related, how many offspring I've born, and a list of my sexual partners. He too pulls out his cord, and we touch the two tips together. A red light appears at the tip that is touching. It takes only a short time for his ID to be compared to mine to see if we will be a good match to produce an offspring.

A blue light appears.

“I am free tonight,” I say.

“How about eight? I will meet you here,” he answers.

I nod, insert my cord back into my wrist, and make my way down the hall and out of the building. I am always able to find a match within the first week of moving into a building. I would like to believe it is because of my IQ that I make a suitable mate, but most believe it is my beauty. I am five-foot-seven and weigh 120 pounds. I have high cheek bones, wide eyes, and long brunette hair that is almost always tied up when I am in public. I suppose another reason I am always deemed a good choice for a mate is my history. I have been able to get pregnant on every first night of attempt and have never miscarried.

56 years ago the system enacted the Rounds Law. It states that each woman must produce at least ten offspring with ten different men, and that men must produce at least ten offspring with ten different females. To increase chances of survival the human race must create a large gene pool. We have learned that Earth and the universe cannot be controlled. Our environment, from gas levels to terrain, changes so frequently now that it is important to do anything to ensure survival of our species.

The buildings help speed the process of meeting different people to procreate with, though one does not need to meet a partner within the building. We submit an application through the system which takes down our interests, habits, professions, and the system puts us into a building based on criteria. For round two I was put in a building named River 9, in which all of the inhabitants had a strong dislike for perfume. I mated with a painter.

This is my third round. I have produced two offspring already. I would like to be done with this requirement as soon as possible so that I can focus on my work. Not that my work has been neglected; it hasn't by any means. The gestation period can be sped up to take only four months and it helps that we do not raise the children.

When the law was enacted systems were put in place so that the law would not be deemed as interfering with one's life goals. Children are put into collective homes where they are tended to by workers, whom they can call mother and father. For the scant few nowadays who deem child rearing their life's passion, any child they keep must be above the ten they render to the system or be the second child with the same mate they had during a round. While this option is open, very few have children outside of the rounds. Even marriage is taboo. Those who choose to live monogamously are thought to put their desires above the benefit of the species.

I was raised in the system. I have seen pictures of my biological parents through my cord, but I have never met them. My mother and father within the system are coworkers who are not related. I visit both of them frequently.

I walk fast and straight to my destination. Apart from wanting to get to work early, there is not much scenery to view on the route and since the weather is a perpetual state of gloomy, being outdoors does not hold much interest. I arrive at Lab Four under five minutes.

This lab, similar to all labs, has a glass theme for its opening. There is a light blue border on the walls of the small opening room. There are a few scientists here already. Many of them look at me as I pass. I was given an award recently and featured for my work in the Laboratories Newsletter. That is probably why I am garnering so much attention.

I turn towards the front desk and give a greeting nod to Elna, the secretary, who waves to me. She is looking bright today, but that can be expected. She is in her third month of gestation on her tenth round. I too will be happy on my final round.

I head to the ninth floor. I am a biologist, but I work in genetics. This lab is strictly for genetic studies. We test a variety of genes against all sorts of stress.

I walk to the room at the far end of the hallway, take the cord from my wrist, and enter it into a slot. My face shows on the screen and the door opens. Only two people have access to this room. The other person is Dr. Vocx. Before I started working here, he had been working in this lab room by himself for twenty years. He is looked up to as the best geneticist of our time.

When applying for a job, most apply through the hiring system. I applied by waiting for Dr. Vocx outside of the building. I wanted to work with and learn from the best and I told him that. It took courage on my part. People fear speaking to him unless he speaks to them first. I think he was so surprised by my action to hand him my resume and application that, after looking at my resume, he allowed me to work with him.

Dr. Vocx practically lives inside of this lab. I feel like all of the tools here are just extensions of him. When I walk into the room I see him, hands in blue gloves and face masked. He is bending over the table and observing a Petri dish. I admire him for a while before letting my presence be known.

When he moves away from the Petri dish I greet him. “Good morning,” I say as I set down my case on my table and reach for my lab coat.

He turns. “Good morning, Natasha.” He removes his mask, and I get to see his face. Dr. Vocx is 49 years old. Once of golden hue, his hair is now graying. His stature, however, is still fit. I have always wondered how this is possible because he spends most of his time in the lab experimenting.

“Did you stay here overnight?” I ask him, turning on my computer, which is on a desk near our experiment area.

“Yes,” he answers. He takes off his gloves and washes his hands. “Did you move into Heights 11 this morning as you planned?”


“How do you like it?” he asks while wiping his hands on a paper towel.

“It's nice,” I tell him, turning back from my computer screen. I have logged into the program and can now see my notes from my current experiment.

“That was where I got my fourth round,” Dr. Vocx tells me. I am not surprised. Being such an acclaimed scientist I knew one of his rounds must have come from Heights 11. His tenth round I knew came from meeting someone outside this building. It was me. He was my first round. We don't speak of it much.

We work straight for 15 hours, performing experiments then eating intermittently while inputting data into the computer. By 7:25 p.m. I have put away my lab tools and have slung my case over my shoulder. When I turn to head for the door, I find Dr. Vocx is close in front of me. He approaches closer until we are only inches apart.

“Didn't you tell me you have that meeting tomorrow?” he asks, almost in a whisper.

He is referring to a meeting I have with the system’s History Committee. When I was child living on the system I got close to a woman I called my “Grandmother,” though she was not related to the woman I called “mother” or the man I called “father.” She is 97 years old now and still strong. She is under the care of the History Committee who takes care of all of those who were beyond the age of forty, and therefore under the law did not have to comply, when the system enacted the Rounds Law. The elderly who have undergone rounds choose to live in communal buildings where everyone aids in taking care of one another.

Two doctors from the History Committee have asked me to meet with them tomorrow to discuss an important matter. They did not tell me what that matter was in regards to. They told me they were not sure how long the meeting would take and that it was best I did not go to work.

“Yes, the meeting is tomorrow,” I tell Dr. Vocx. His face is not far from mine.

“I won't be seeing you tomorrow then.”


He kisses me on the lips, which I accept willingly, and pulls my waist against him. “Perhaps we could meet tonight?” he asks. He is breathing heavily.

“I can't. I have a potential third round tonight,” I tell him.

He leans his forehead on mine and separates away from me with a smile on his face. “Okay then. Perhaps I can see you tomorrow night.”

I nod and leave the room.

I grab my dinner, a bag of chips and a carton of milk, from a machine outside the lab. I eat and drink while walking back to Heights 11. In my room I wash myself, brush my teeth, and apply lotion all over my body. I put on my working clothes, these are the only clothes I have, and put my hair up. I look exactly as I looked this morning, as I look on every morning. It is 7:45. I am on time. I wanted to have at least a few minutes to know my partner tonight.

Four inches down from my left wrist, I push down where I feel the end of the cord. A second passes, then in my eyes I see the face of the man I met this morning. His name is Don Gamma. This would be his seventh round. He is 26. He works as a chemist in Lab Seven. Like me, I see he has not yet had to take any medication to cure any disease. When one is going through rounds, it is not uncommon for one to get sick from a sexually transmitted disease. While there is medication to cure these sicknesses, I am glad none of my potential mates have been sick.

At 7:55 I go outside of my room and look to where I told Don I would meet him. He is standing there, waiting for me. When his eyes meet mine, I motion for him to enter my room. I close the door behind him.


In the morning I take Vitamin 924. It is a small pill and, despite the name, is not a vitamin at all. It speeds the gestation period. Within thirty minutes I will know if last night was successful.

It is 6:45 a.m. Don left my room last night as soon as we were through, so I am alone. I get ready and head to the building of the History Committee. It is a forty minute walk from Heights 11, a distance I can travel in 10 minutes by vehicle, but today I actually feel like walking. Midway through the walk I feel my cord vibrating in my left wrist. I push down on it and in my eyes I see that last night was a success. I am pregnant. I am glad my third round is underway.

This History Committee's building is located in downtown, the most dangerous part of the city. I hold a lab scalpel in my bag tighter as I get closer to downtown. When I pass the space between buildings I see people sleeping on blankets on the wet floor, cardboard boxes set up as houses, people pushing carts. One man, looking as though he is half asleep, holds out his hand to offer me needles I suspect contain drugs. I speed my walk to the building. Part of the Rounds Law assumes that even a man like this one could offer something to the gene pool that may aid in survival. I have my doubts.

The History Committee's building is one of the tallest towers in town. It has a brick exterior for the first floor and windows for the rest. I quickly enter the building to save myself from the outside company. At the front desk is a chubby woman wearing a bright blue blouse with some sort of orange design. Her glasses look thick. Apart from her and me, there is no one else here, but she doesn't greet me. She continues to look at her computer.

“Excuse me,” I say. She looks up and regards me with no attempt at hospitality. “I have a meeting with Dr. Hols and Dr. Junie. Are they on the 27th floor?”

She looks at her computer screen briefly while answering. “ shouldn't be anyone on the 27th floor. Since a couple days ago the only floors we use are the first twenty. Very few of the old generation are alive now so we don't need to use all of the floors. They reorganized the residents. Dr. Hols and Junie, did you say?”

I nod. She types into her computer. “They're on Floor 14. Room 727. I can see they're expecting you. Go on up.”

“Thank you,” I say, and then I walk to enter the elevator I see on the far right of the floor.

Dr. Hols and Dr. Junie share a suite as I gather from the writing on the door when I locate Room 727. The glass door is not transparent so I knock. When a voice shouts “Come in,” I enter the suite. There is a room to my right and a room to my left. Straight ahead is a conference area. Both of the doctors greet me outside of their doors.

Dr. Hols is a blonde-haired, muscular man. He is baring all of his teeth in his smile, which gives off the feeling that he is the hero in a toothpaste commercial. Dr. Junie is a petite woman. She strikes me as very ladylike as she holds a clipboard to her chest. Both of them are wearing lab coats. When I see the two of them, I wonder if they've done a round together.

“Good morning, Miss Natasha Alpha,” Dr. Hols says to me. He even sounds like an announcer for a commercial.

“Good morning,” I say in response. He motions for me to have a seat at the conference table. I follow suit.

Dr. Junie begins the discussion after she has sat down. “We called you in today to discuss the state of Nori Smith. We understand you are very close to her?”

“Yes, she was my grandmother when I was being raised in the system.”

“She was grandmother to many children, but you are the only one to visit her.”

“I did not know that.”

“She did not have family apart from her husband who died two years ago and you're the only one who comes to see her from children she cared for in the system,” Dr. Junie explains.

“Are you aware of how fond Mrs. Smith is of the history box?” Dr. Hols asks me.

I nod my head. The history box is a small device that plays records of one's life. The history box reads the records, brings up the images in holographs, and makes one feel as if they were back in that scene. One can talk with anyone in the record and the history box is able to come up with an answer that person might say. This invention was released twenty-five years before the Rounds Law took place and almost everyone picked one up. I am one of the rare few that does not own a history box. I have never even thought of getting one.

I knew Grandmother was fond of the history box. On most occasions that I came to visit her she was either using it or about to use it. A couple years ago, a few months after Mr. Smith died, she made me use it with her and I attended her wedding. She spoke to her husband with enthusiasm even though the only words he would say in response was, “I do.” I had begun to suspect then that Grandmother was beginning to lose her mind.

“As you know,” Dr. Junie said, and I quickly realized she was the smart one between these two doctors, “Mrs. Smith is now 97. She is the oldest person alive who is under the care of the History Committee. Recently she has gotten violent with nurses that try to take care of her. She cries in her sleep and shouts out for her husband in the night. While she appears on our tests as physically healthy, we wonder if mentally she is safe.”

“She is very strong,” I tell them. “She is also as sweet and kind to me as the first day I met her. I believe she is fine.”

The two share a glance after I speak that makes me realize a discussion of Grandmother’s health was not why they called me here.

Dr. Hols takes over the discussion. “Ms. Alpha, we have recently learned that system funds will be directed towards constructing more buildings and some funds from the History Committee will be diverted to help with the construction. That being the case, we must cut our residents by half. Because she is the oldest and because of her current mental state the system has instructed Mrs. Smith be one we remove.”

“Remove, as in?” I ask.

The two share a look. “We called you in to tell you that two days from now at 7:30 in the morning we will perform euthanasia on Mrs. Smith. Perhaps you would like to spend as much time with her until then and perhaps you would also like to be present at the time of the injection.”

This news weighs on me heavily.

Dr. Junie must see the shock I feel at hearing this. She looks down at the table for a moment. “We have a mother and a father in the system, but those titles are usually only for tradition's sake,” she tells me. “Not many get as close to those figures as you have.”

“We were surprised to learn of your attachment to Mrs. Smith, especially considering you work in Lab Four,” Dr. Hols states.

“Mrs. Smith was an easy person to get close to,” I say. I look at both of them and I know they are waiting for my comments regarding Grandmother's final days. “I am a scientist born and raised in the system. I fully support anything the system deems must happen,” I tell them. “I understand that death will eventually come upon all of us. Thank you for letting me know and giving me the opportunity of these last few days to spend time with her. I would like to go to her now, if that is okay.”

The two nod to one another. “We have moved, as you know since we are now on the fourteenth floor. We can take you to her room,” Dr. Hols says. They smile to me, a bit too widely, I feel. Do they know the History Committee will not need doctors in this building once all of the older generations are gone, I wonder.

As we are walking, Dr. Junie tells me that Grandmother's room is at the farthest end of the hall. When we start passing doors that have little windows so that one can peer into the room, I know we are in the residence part of the hall. When we get to Grandmother's room I peer first through the window. I see this room is just like the room she had on the 27th floor. I see her empty bed, her television turned off, and a couple of books on a nightstand. I don't see Grandmother and I know why.

“She's probably using her history box,” Dr. Junie tells me as though reading my mind. She takes her cord from her left wrist and slides it into the reader on the door to give me access into the room.

“We'll be in our office if you need us, Ms. Alpha,” Dr. Hols tells me as they walk away and I enter the room. I immediately breathe in the smell of menthol ointment. The room is even smaller than the room I currently live in. Altogether it can't be more than 15 square feet. The stall for the bathroom is to the right. I see she's not in there, so Dr. Junie and I must be right. Grandmother must be using the history box.

I step farther into the room to see a part that the walls prevent me from seeing from the door. This is where Grandmother keeps her history box because there is more space here for her to interact with the holographs.

Sure enough the history box is on. I see Grandmother surrounded by holograph images of people dressed up in colorful clothing. Grandmother is standing next to her young figure. She is wearing a headset and sleeves on her arms, which allow her to communicate with the images coming from the history box. I see her dancing with her husband, who looks very young in the image. She lifts her eyes and sees me.

“Oh my! Natasha, darling,” she says, clutching her chest. Apparently I really surprised her. She removes her headset and walks towards the history box still avoiding images of people, though now that she is not wearing her headset, those images would not register that she is walking through them. When she gets to the history box and pushes a button, all of the images disappear. All that is left is Grandmother, a case of records, and a square box, half the size of a shoe box, in this small part of the room.

Grandmother is beaming when she looks at me. She has gotten to be a small figure over the years, not more that 5 feet and two inches tall. The fact that she is very thin, though, makes her look like the tall woman I remember from my childhood. She holds her hands out to me and I walk to her to embrace her. I handle her thin frame gently. Her short, gray, curly hair feels very soft as I lay my face on her head.

“I am most definitely surprised you’re here!” she says as we pull apart. She holds both of my hands in hers. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your beautiful presence? I usually only see you once a month and you were here just last week.”

I think about the reason why my visit is early and it makes me turn away from looking her in the eyes. I cannot bring myself to tell her what I know. “I just wanted to visit you,” I say. “In fact, I think I will be a frequent visitor for the next couple of days.”

A smile spreads across her face. “Really? How delightful!” She pulls me in closer for another hug. “We must also invite Volcano Flies and Painted Links, my dear,” she adds to me, completely serious. She pulls me toward a small sofa that is near her bed, and makes me sit on it.

I can understand in this moment why the system deems Grandmother less reasonable to maintain than the others. She has moments in which she has clearly lost grasp with reality.

“The Volcano Flies and Painted Links, Grandmother?” I ask.

“Yes. Those are my Tom's favorite bands. Oh my, he used to invite both bands to any party we used to have. He loved music, you know, my Tom.”

After spending so much time with Grandmother over the years I knew almost everything about Tom. Especially after he died, her husband is practically all Grandmother speaks about.

“I was at a party, you know, when you came in. Tom threw me a surprise birthday party and invited both bands to perform. We danced practically that entire night.”

“Oh...” I say. I shift a little in my seat when I feel a slight discomfort in my stomach. This is normal on the first day of pregnancy.

Grandmother notices my shift. “Oh my, are you pregnant?”

“Yes, my third one,” I tell her in case she forgot how many rounds I've already been through. I grab my stomach. I am going through bouts of stinging pain.

“That Dr. Vocx is a lucky man,” Grandmother says.

“Oh no, Grandmother, Dr. Vocx was my first round.”

She looks at me confused and I can see she is momentarily forgetting about the rounds. I have learned during my visits that sometimes she forgets parts of the past. I guess it makes sense that she would forget about the Rounds Law. She didn't have to follow it. The look on her face tells me she is still trying to process the meaning of what I have said. Not wanting to waste time reminding her of the system's law, I decide to go along with her.

“What I meant is that this is my third child with Dr. Vocx,” I say, and that she understands.

She nods and smiles. She starts running her fingers through my hair, a comforting gesture. “My dear, I see you are as in love with this Dr. Vocx as I am with my Tom.” She begins to cry. “Just thinking of Tom and seeing him through the history box keeps me alive, you know that? His love for me was and still is my food. Sorry for crying, my dear. It's just I remember the way he used to take care of me, the way he loved me. That man treated me so well; I don't think even the queen of that old England got better care from her husband than I did.”

She wipes her tears and pats my legs. In between sobs she continues speaking. “I know you understand. I am sure that Dr. Vocx treats you the same, my dear.”

I don't bother telling her that nowadays having the attachment for one partner that she has just described is simply not the norm.


When Dr. Vocx rolls off me, he sits up on the side of bed. The single bed isn't large enough to make lying side by side comfortable. I sit up, getting a blanket that had fallen on the floor and use it to cover my bare body. I have only been pregnant for one day and already there is a slight bump on my stomach. I am out of breath, but not as much as Dr. Vocx whose chest is heaving.

“Grandmother told me today that thinking of the love she had with her husband is what is keeping her alive,” I tell him.

He turns to me. “Hormones involved in such feelings do provide benefits for the body,” he says.

“What do you think about it keeping her alive? It’s as though that history box is providing her medication.” I am always eager for his intelligence to be dawned upon me.

“To base survival on love is ludicrous.” Dr. Vocx’s response is simple and straightforward. “It’s never been proven.”

I nod and rub my stomach to ease a tightening I feel inside. Dr. Vocx watches me do this.

“I love the feel of a woman as she's going through her rounds,” he says, getting back on top of me. “We don't have to use any contraceptive, which takes away some of the pleasure.”

Anything he says makes me think. Like now, when it's just been made clear to me that he sleeps with others beside me. Of course I figured he must have been, but it's never been stated.

I wonder if he knows he is the only reason I keep contraceptives. Since I have already had a round with him, I cannot have another child with his genes, unless I wanted to keep the baby. Apart from the necessity of the rounds, he's the only man I've slept with.


Grandmother is clearly agitated the following day. She is pacing back and forth, putting books that are on one table on another, then transferring books that are on that table to the one she had just come from, and then repeating the process. I wonder if she knows her task will be never-ending.

She stops when she sees me. “I know why you're here,” she says. I come closer and can see she is crying. I was on the roof during break after you left yesterday and another resident told me that she and I were going to be euthanized by the system.”

She sets the books down and sits on the sofa that is by her bed. I sit next to her. When she cries into her hands, I hug her.

“Thank you for being with me,” she tells me, as she hugs me in return. “I know it is not common in today's time to show this sort of affection.”

There is nothing I can say in response to this. We just hug one another.

I stay with her for hours. At 8 at night Dr. Hols comes in briefly to tell me visiting hours will be over in 10 minutes.

When he leaves Grandmother taps my hands and touches my face with her wrinkled hands. She is 97, I think to myself, and she is still so strong. She herself is a lesson for survival.

“I was told it was going to be tomorrow,” she tells me. She is no longer crying. “Injection.” She smiles and I can tell it is forced. “I will see Tom again.”

She gets up and drags me to follow her. We go to her history box. She lifts it from its place on small table and gives it to me along with the attachments and her box of records. “You don't need to come tomorrow. I think it will happen in the morning. I want you to have these,” she says. “Thank you for staying with me. You are truly an exception for this generation.”

I cannot think of anything to say. I feel unintelligent compared to a woman who is losing her mind, because she is the one comforting me when I should be the one saying comforting words in this situation. I hold the history box and the records. My only response is a nod.


I have a hard time sleeping that night and I know it is not because of the pregnancy. When an hour has passed and I am still tossing and turning, I know lying down is no use. Grandmother is on my mind. I will miss her.

I touch the history box and the records that she treasured so highly. I have never cared to own a history box, or even thought to have a recorder. I feel foolish for not thinking to create a recent record of her.

I pick a random record and insert it into the history box. I do not put on the headset or the arm sleeves. I do not want to simulate communication; I just want to see her life during its happy moments.

When the holographs appear around me I am to the side of Grandmother and Tom. There are four others on the table with them, friends it seems. The one taking the record keeps going in front of the history recorder to keep himself in the record. I think Grandmother is in her 50s in this record. Her black hair is just starting to gray. It seems we are in a fancy restaurant. I see waiters in suits passing by.

I am staring at Grandmother and Tom holding hands, smiling as they look at one another. My attention is grabbed by one of their friends when he dings a wine glass.

“I would like to make a toast to my little brother, Tom, and his beautiful wife, Nori, on their 20th anniversary,” the man says. He has a smirk on his face. “I must be honest and say, Nori, that I am surprised you were able to put up with him for so long.”

While others on the table laugh, Tom looks at his brother with a playful look of warning.

“Seriously,” Tom's brother continues, “you two were made to last. I've never seen two people more in love and I know that there will be many more anniversaries for the two of you to celebrate.”

The others at the table state their agreement. Grandmother and Tom share a kiss and when the two separate I can't stop looking at Grandmother. She is beaming in happiness. Looking at her face makes me feel heavy inside. Before I know it, I am crying.

I leave my room, wanting to speak to someone. Dr. Vocx's room in Lake 9 is just a fifteen minute walk from mine. I speed my walk and get there quickly.

When he opens the door he is shocked, then concerned. “What happened to you?” he asks as I walk into his room.

“I saw Grandmother for the last time today,” I tell him, tears still running down my face. “They will end her life tomorrow morning.”

He leans against a table. His apartment is much more spacious than mine, being in a building that is meant for permanent living for those who are already through with the rounds. “You knew this would happen,” he states simply.

“Yes, but it is hard to accept. I wish there was something I could do so that her life wouldn't have to end this way.”

“Something you could do? As in have her live with you like families used to before the Rounds Law? Would you be able to handle that while you are completing rounds and setting up your career?”

He approaches me, and begins to rub my arms. “Natasha, this is the way of life. One of the benefits that arose from the Rounds Law is that family love, be it between mother and child or spouses, is no longer the focus of our existence. Under the system, there are many people that one can share an emotional tie with and never is that emotional tie strong enough to give someone great pain.”

His words have cut me deeper. “I wouldn’t say that emotional ties are never strong enough to give one great pain. I am not sure I can stop the depth of my emotional connections.”

“You are a strong, intelligent person. You know your responsibilities and have always seen them through. I am actually surprised that you feel this way,” Dr. Vocx says to me. He looks at me consolingly. “It simply means that there is room for you to be more accepting of the system.”

“I do accept the system,” I say, a bit irritated. For now I am not talking about Grandmother, but about something I have wanted to discuss with Dr. Vocx for a long time but have not had the strength to until now. “What I don't accept are the unwritten codes people derive from the system.”

“Like what?” he asks.

“Like people should be able to live in private after the rounds without it being considered as living against the system. I don't want to live in a communal building,” I say, hoping Dr. Vocx will pick up on this hint.

He doesn't respond.

“I love you,” I tell him.

He takes a deep breath and puts his hands down from rubbing my arms. He steps away from me and for a moment is silent. When he speaks his tone is straight and serious. “You are a geneticist--”

“I am a biologist.”

“As one working in genetics, you understand the need for the Rounds Law--”

“I am not discussing that. I am discussing you and me. You're the only man I am with besides the rounds. After the rounds I want us to be together.”

I can see he is taken back by what I have said. “You are in far more emotional imbalance in this moment than I suspected. I think you should get rest.”

“I love you,” I tell him again, waiting to hear him say the same words in return.

He simply stares at me. When I shake my head he begins to speak. “The system--”

I hold my hands up and walk out the door. For tonight I have had enough of the system.

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